Friday, February 4, 2011

Are 'doing what you say you'll do' and 'flawless execution' passé values

The Mead Consulting Group has been focused on execution and getting results for businesses for many years. It is the key to our success as a business and has become essential component of our brand. Execution is not only important to the business, but also very important to me personally in everything I do. People who have worked alongside me in nonprofits, community, or public service areas certainly understand this.

At a recent gathering of the Leadership 20 alumni – a group of top emerging professional services leaders in the Colorado community - the question was raised: “Is meeting your commitments and ‘doing what you say you’ll do’ as important today as it was 20 years ago?

It’s an interesting question. I was quick to respond that “Absolutely! Meeting your commitments is just as important today as it was a couple of decades ago.”

However, as I thought more about it, I have had reason to question whether that is really true. Is it really as important today? In the last few months, I have been faced with a number of iterations of businesses and people not executing, not meeting their commitments, not doing what they say they will.

Do what you say you’ll do. Business on a handshake. Mead Consulting has numerous marketplace partnerships with the better providers of a wide array of services that our clients need (training, recruiting, managed IT services, investment banking, etc.). We have had mutual agreements for many years with these providers – virtually all on a handshake agreement. We have had only one negative issue with a partner over 20+ years with this program… Until recently.

In the past two months, we have had two new partners (one a Managed IT Services firm, the other a marketing firm) not live up to their word. It has given me pause to question why. Is this a sign of desperation due to tough economic times? If that is true, does integrity only apply to good times? Did we compromise our standards with these firms? Or, was it just the luck of the draw over time?

Don’t over-commit and under-deliver. There have always been situations of over-committing and under-delivering in business and community. Sometimes it is a miscalculation or unintentional. Sometimes people can’t say NO and get overloaded. However, recently I have begun to see a pattern with people who routinely accept more and more roles and then can’t perform. The same people repeat this in organization after organization. For a number of years my mantra for nonprofit and public service organizations has been “alignment, commitment, flawless execution.” In other words, do something that is well-aligned to your business, personal, professional interests, bite off a manageable amount, and then execute flawlessly. If you then find you can take on more tasks and responsibilities, that’s great, but meet your commitments first.

As a board member and leader of several organizations, I have been forced to have tough conversations with people who love to add titles and items to their resume, yet don’t deliver or meet even the minimal standards of performance or execution.

Don’t accept mediocre performance. Hold yourself and others to high standards. I have had occasion to work on a program which is a government - private industry collaboration. The program which has tremendous potential to assist companies and create jobs has unfortunately been sub-optimized. Even as it has been falling short of its potential, it has been very instructional to watch the self-congratulatory behavior of the committee and board. Committee members who have repeatedly failed to meet their commitments cheer each other as “awesome” and “fabulous” while rejecting or ignoring suggestions for improvement. I certainly understand that government entities have never been shining examples of stellar performance or accountability, but it is disappointing none-the-less. We see the same applauding of mediocrity in the school system as well as we seek to promote high self esteem for every student and teacher regardless of achievement or effort. Has acceptance of mediocrity become the norm? Is it old-fashioned to set high standards and expect strong performance or yourself and others?

Don’t find excuses or blame others for substandard performance. When I was a young boy growing up, my father would say, “Be a man! Own your mistakes.” I wonder what he would think if he were alive today to observe the business and government scene as people look for anyone they can to blame when they fail.

Some may say that I may just be getting cranky. But, I ask you to think about this: Is ‘meeting your commitments’ passé? Is ‘doing what you say you’ll do’ your grandfather’s mantra? Is ‘flawless execution’ an old fashioned concept?

Let me know your thoughts?

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